While many states, cities, and towns may lay claim to great barbeque, Texas may very well be the king of the lot. The Texan influence exploded over the last ten to twelve years primarily thanks to the opening of numerous Texas Style BBQ restaurants outside of Texas. When referring to barbeque in Texas, we’re talking about grilled or smoked meats and various traditional dishes that are served alongside. Texas specializes in preparing any number of pork cuts and in beef brisket along with sausage, but it also includes Tex-Mex cooking in its repertory. You may find some very tasty spareribs, tacos, and sausage on the very same barbeque menu in the lone star state as well as very generously sized brisket characteristic of the region.
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The Texas BBQ History
The famed BBQ identified with the state can retrace its beginnings to the middle of the nineteenth century when immigrants from Germany and Czechoslovakia established roots in central Texas in the area between San Antonio and Austin. They brought with them the European traditions for preserving meat and sausages. They also practiced smoking meat to conserve it for even longer periods. The slow cooking of meats and the smoking traditions took hold and rapidly spread throughout the region. Now Texas boasts well over two thousand BBQ restaurants and eateries in its boundaries and hosts an annual Texas Monthly Barbeque Fest. In 2019, over 4000 meat-lovers made the trip to Austin for the tenth annual BBQ Fest.
Texas Barbeque Styles
Artisans of the pit will confirm that Texas BBQ isn’t limited to just one single style or a basic recipe. As a result, you may find some very different meals served in BBQ joints in Austin, S. Antonio or Laredo. Four general styles have, however, established a following among BBQ aficionados.
- Central Texas. The birthplace of Texas barbeque, central Texas BBQ is known for its simple dry rub of basically salt and pepper, although Fire Spicer pitmasters may have their special version. Here in the center of the state, meat is smoked for hours at low temperatures over wood that might be oak, pecan or mesquite. The meat is then served on a piece of brown butcher paper or a platter with a side of bread.
- East Texas. Move over to the east and you’ll enjoy tender smoked meat that falls off the bone like butter. This preparation is similar to Central Texas traditions as it is smoked slowly over an indirect heat source for significant periods. It is usually characterized by smoking done over hickory wood. It may be served marinated in a tomatoey sauce. In the East Texas tradition, both pork and brisket are served, often on a bun with sides of pickles and maybe some hot sauce.
- South Texas. Close to the Mexican border, the South Texas tradition will reflect the Mexican cuisine influence. South Texas BBQ will feature a sweet molasses-based sauce. This style of cuisine is known as “barbacoa” and may include meat cuts that include both the cow head or tongue among others.
- West Texas. In contrast, West Texas offers barbequed meats that are cooked over an open flame as in grilling rather than smoking. This area’s BBQ style uses mesquite wood as mesquite trees are native to the climate and area.
Side Dishes for Texas Barbeque
The most common side dishes that will accompany your delicious Texas BBQ experience include
- Jalapeno peppers
- Potatoes or potato salad
What makes Texas Barbeque the Best?
This is the million-dollar question. Undoubtedly, the pitmasters in Texas would tell you the ingredients are the key. While barbequed food throughout the country is served with variations of sweet sauces that are either vinegar or mustard-based, Texan pitmasters concentrate on the meat. They will tell you the provenance of their meat beginning with the farm of origin of the animals right down to the specific cut of meat chosen and why. They don’t cover the natural flavor of the smoked meat with sauces but pride themselves on the quality of the meat and the type of wood they use to slow cook and smoke it with. Taste is everything in Texas-style BBQ. The meat, depending on which BBQ restaurant you go to, can slow cook meat anywhere up to eighteen hours. No wonder it melts in your mouth. And with no sauce, the quality is laid bare.
Texans will tell you that real Texas barbeque should be eaten on butcher paper with your hands. Of course, you can find sauces as well as forks and knives in most Texas BBQ joints together with side dishes, but they are considered optional and not necessary for the true Texas BBQ experience.
The Texas Traditions
Here are a few of the traditions you may find if you want Texas BBQ in Texas.
- You may have to wait in line. Good BBQ has a numerous and loyal following.
- BBQ Joints cut their eats fresh and sell out once it’s finished. Many pitmasters only prepare a certain quantity of meat, so when it’s finished, they close.
- Great BBQ doesn’t need sauce. Some BBQ joints will make it a point of honor to not sell sauce as they “have nothing to hide”.
- The meat is everything. In Texas, this is the rule. Side dishes are just that. The star of the show is a generous portion of top-quality meat.
- BBQ should be smoked. The electric smoker was pioneered in Texas, how could it be otherwise?
Can You Find Texas Barbeque Outside of Texas?
Authentic Texas BBQ? Maybe, but a lot will depend on who’s smoking the meat, how it’s smoked, which wood they use, and above all the meat quality and where the meat comes from. Of course, the Texas atmosphere found in the lone star state would be difficult to replicate, but not impossible. Dedication to quality and customers treated like family are cardinal rules. Undoubtedly, the local culture and environment add to the culinary experience.
The Bottom Line
Texas Barbeque is about as good as it can get. If you find the right Texas Barbeque joint, you will be eating a meal to be remembered and if you do it in Texas, you’ll have the embarrassment of choosing where.